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Funds from Better Off likely to be reshuffled

Masterton District Council is set to reallocate more Better Off money to targeted wastewater renewals, following the government’s withdrawal of millions in promised funding.

Masterton’s Tranche 1 application, approved late last year, included eight projects, one of which was $2.25 million for targeted wastewater renewals.

This was the maximum that council estimated could be spent on wastewater renewals in the time available, given contractor capacity, and left about $1.63m in the fund.

Other projects receiving funding included: planting for biodiversity and fish passages [$200,000]; Pukaha funding contribution [$335,000]; climate change activator for three years [$250,000]; mana whenua partnerships-climate resilience [$575,000]; Urban Safe Transport Routes Implementation Plan [$50,000]; Trust House Recreation Centre and War Memorial Stadium assessment [$120,000]; and air quality actions scope and business case [$100,000].

When the decision on funding allocation was made prior to last year’s local body elections, councillors Tim Nelson, Bex Johnson, and Gary Caffell [now Masterton’s mayor] wanted the full amount spent on wastewater renewals.

Nelson, who raised an amendment to do so, said the wastewater investment was “urgent many years ago and it is urgent now”.

“I think this is the only way it should be spent.”

However, the amendment failed to win the support of a council majority at the time and was lost.

Now, councillors have a chance to reallocate the funding after the government quietly withdrew a $1.5 billion sweetener for councils in its reset of the Three Waters Reforms last month.

The first tranche of funding – worth $500 million nationally – was allocated in 2022; Masterton got $3.88m, Carterton $1.7m, and South Wairarapa $1.88m.

The second tranche, which would have been available from July 2024, was worth $11.65m to Masterton, $5.1m to Carterton, and $5.63m to South Wairarapa.

A report to the council, which meets today, said the changes announced by the government potentially raise an opportunity for the council to consider reallocating some of the funding from projects that have yet to commence to undertake further wastewater renewals work.

This would be dependent on the Department of Internal Affairs agreeing to modify the council’s proposal.

The report said a key driver for the prioritisation of wastewater renewals is “the fact that we have areas of our town and members of our community who have dealt with ongoing challenges with wastewater systems since the February 2022 rain event – noting there have been issues previously too”.

“The wastewater problems are exacerbated by stormwater infiltrating the wastewater system when we do have heavy rain.

“Our community are generally aware of issues in the Cockburn St-Colombo Rd area, however other parts of our town are impacted too.”

To help the council consider the matter, submitter feedback relating to next year’s Long-Term Plan [LTP] was analysed, identifying 24 comments from 114 LTP submitters that related to wastewater and stormwater.

Two of 17 free-form submitters also commented.

All reflected some level of concern, disappointment, or advocacy for the improvement of the council’s wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

It is recommended that the council directs staff to explore the option of transferring funding for Three Waters ‘Better Off’ projects that have not yet commenced and/or been fully committed to Project 1: Targeted Wastewater Renewals.

The council meets today to discuss the recommendation. – NZLDR

    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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